Only five teams have ever won away in a Premiership semi-final in 29 attempts and it is hard to make the case for a sixth but I just have a feeling Gloucester could do something special.
I was part of the first team to win on the road in the semi-finals with Leicester back in 2008 when we won at Kingsholm and only four teams have managed to do it in the decade since, which tells you everything about the size of the task facing Gloucester and Northampton.
We were lucky to be in the play-offs that year and if they see it as a free shot, you just never know. If either of the away sides are going to pull off an upset, I reckon Gloucester have got more chance of doing it at Saracens.
That will sound strange to some when Northampton were level at half-time at Sandy Park last week and the Cherry and Whites have never won at Allianz Park but I just think there’s a glimmer of hope for Gloucester.
I don’t think there’ll be a hangover from the Champions Cup final a couple of weeks ago but you never know and then there is the front row, which could be an area of weakness.
Richard Barrington and Vincent Koch are good players but if they go down early like Titi Lamositele and Mako Vunipola did in the European final, Ralph Adams-Hale is a youngster with only a handful of Premiership appearances to his name and Christian Judge was playing in the Championship earlier this season.
Gloucester have Val Rapava Ruskin, who could make a massive impact, and Ruan Dreyer waiting in reserve and any of their four props will fancy their chances if they see those two coming on but it isn’t an area that you’d normally expect them to be dominant in really.
If they are to win, the back row of Ruan Ackermann, Jaco Kriel and Ben Morgan are going to have to get the better of their opposite numbers and the Premiership Player of the Season Danny Cipriani is going to have to capitalise on almost every chance they get.
He’s a master of creating little edge attacks and getting his team going from slow ball to quick ball. He’ll see things that others won’t but Gloucester will have to be clinical. They might get three openings and will have to take at least two of them.
They won’t be as loose as they have been at times this season and will have been working on their kicking game specifically for this game, so it might be a case of kicking their way up the field to 30 metres from the opposition try-line and then knowing when to press the gamble button.
Ollie Thorley will be a big loss for them, though, as he’s been their x-factor player this season and is someone who Saracens might have been a bit frightened of with the extra pace that he offers.
Both Gloucester and Northampton look like they’ve picked teams to combat the power games of their hosts, though, with six forwards and just two backs named by both among the replacements.
I’ve never been a fan of the six, two split on the bench and they could have issues if a key back goes down early but it’s clear that they think the extra forward will be useful with the amount of pressure they’re going to have to withstand and they know they’ll have to take the top two on physically if they have any chance of getting the better of them.
At Sandy Park the match-up of the young Joe Simmonds, who’s earned his place at the business end of the season just like he did a year ago, against the vast experience of Dan Biggar will be a fascinating one but I don’t think it’ll be the defining one.
Saints do have the ability to create something out of nothing and turn defence into attack in an instant with Cobus Reinach and Taqele Naiyaravoro, in particular, so you have to give them a shot but they’re going to need much more of an attacking focus throughout.
There’s a reason Chiefs finished streets ahead of them in the regular season and I just can’t see Saints winning unfortunately.
Exeter finished 30 points ahead of Northampton, which is the biggest gap between first and fourth in Premiership history, and the 10-point difference between second-placed Saracens and third-placed Gloucester is the biggest for 14 years as well.
A romantic always wants to see a brilliant semi-final that goes all the way to the wire and potentially a victory for the underdog but it’s right that the reward for finishing in the top two is a home semi-final and that does make thigs doubly difficult for the teams in third and fourth.
Chiefs and Sarries have been head and shoulders above everyone else again and the gap between them and the rest does seem to have grown this season.
History tells you there’s a 17 per cent chance of an away team winning their Premiership semi-final and, while I think Gloucester are in with a shout, it’s impossible to back against another Exeter v Saracens finale.
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